This short article about the correct usages of the terms digitization and digitalization has been on my mind for a long time. I’ve already touched the subject in few other papers, especially here (in Romanian). But it is a subject that I’ve long wanted to write about on this blog. So, without further ado, I hope you will enjoy it and maybe it will clear up some questions.
Welcome to the Digital Age
Digital data is now part of almost each human’s life. Much like the Internet, we are already taking it for granted. For some it is just like air, water or other mandatory/basic necessity. For others it still is a luxury or just science-fiction.
Me and my generation, we are born in a transition time (early 80’s). Back then, digital data was stored on magnetic disks and Personal Computers were just showing their heads on the market. By the time we grew up, we found ourselves in a new world, much different from anything humanity experienced so far. While as kids we we’re awed at the possibility to download a song at all. Even if it took half an hour or more for just 3 MB of data. Now, we have live online concerts in high quality. The technological advances almost overtake the capacity of the people to adapt to this new Age. The new technologies are hard to comprehend for most of the people and misunderstood.
Unfortunately, today, humanity’s capacity to adapt to the Digital Age is heavily tested and accelerated this year, on a global scale. We all know the reasons. Even the most developed countries infrastructures are investing a lot of resources to improve or change their ways. The least developed countries had to adapt faster following working models. Suddenly “work from home” was a global wide-spread practice. “From home” has become the norm also for education, meetings and basically any kind of human interaction based activity.
Going Digital IN cultural heritage
Like any other field of activity, Cultural Heritage had to adapt and change many of its ways. Most of the museums had to develop virtual tours and promote their collections in the online medium. During the lock-down these museums reported a record increase in virtual visitors.
But this is not a new trend in Cultural Heritage. Many museums already had a strong online presence: virtual tours of painting collections, online interactive 3D models, public digital libraries etc. The Cultural Heritage community foresaw the need and the advantages of the “way of the Digital”. So, before the 2020 lock-down a lot of cultural operators had already made this step. But now, almost all of the players stepped up and went digital, one way or another.
In 2005 the European Comission launched the Digital Libraries initiative that supported further the development of the Europeana database. Since then, there were different programs and recommendations for all the member states regarding the digitization and the online access to the digitized cultural heritage assets. I won’t insist on the importance of this approach in this field because it is obvious.
I the light of the unfortunate 2018 National Museum of Brasil and the 2019 Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral devastating fires, on 9th of April 2019, the European Union member states signed a Declaration of Cooperation.
This agreement regards the approach of the risks that the European Cultural Heritage is facing, by working on three indicators:
- increasing the European cultural heritage visibility and use;
- improving the involvement of the local communities;
- supporting the interaction with other economic sectors.
Last year, at CIPA 2019 AVILA conference, during the Ethics Panel, the most renowned experts in the field discussed these topics.
about digitization and digitalization
Going digital involves both digitization and digitalization processes and transformations. Today, these seemingly similar terms are found unchecked in news titles, projects, studies and other activities. In many occasions you will find these terms used in the same contexts to express the same thing. Problem is … they are not the same and one does not exclude the other.
Digitization refers to a process of transformation of a data from analogue format into digital format. In the field of Cultural Heritage, digitization is about old historical documents, physical photographs (glass, metal, paper, film), analogue films etc. Again, I’m not going to detail the importance or the methods of digitization of cultural heritage assets.
Digitialization, on the other hand, we understand the transformation of the way an organization is functioning, by ‘going digital’. This means basically the use of digital instruments, digital documents, digital signatures, digital databases etc. Banks, public institutions, hospitals and a famous book store (that actually started online) were the first to take this leap into the Digital Age.
A digitalization process automatically involves digitization activities.
Finally, coming to 3D digitization in Cultural Heritage (and not only). Here, this term refers to the process of transformation of geometrical, geographical and color data of a real physical surface in measurable digital format. This process uses precise non-contact measurement (optical) and furthermore involves mathematical algorithms to obtain different useful digital deliverables. Many times in specialized literature you will find these small errors where the authors are talking about 3D digitialization when actually they mean 3D digitization. I know it might not seem important, but I believe we should all use the correct terms and talk the same language.
For example, the National Institute for Heritage in Romania built a list with all the museums and collections in Romania that can be visited online. The list is very helpful for it mentions which museums have VR tours and 3D models available. Here they refer to the 3D models as “digitalized cultural heritage assets”, when they actually refer to digitized assets. There are more such examples not only in Romania but also abroad, even in scientific papers. As I said, it is a common mistake, but less and less made recently.
But if you look at the really great players in this field, like CyArk or Iconem you will not find this misuse of terms. Try looking on Google 3D digitalization and you will be automatically asked if you meant “3D digitization” instead.
That’s it for now, thanks for bearing with me on this short rant and I hope everything is a little more illuminated in the case of “digitization vs digitalization”. Ask your questions in the comments below and I’ll gladly answer.
A more in depth and very informative article about the difference between digitization and digitalization, with no connection to Cultural Heritage though, can be found here.